The Deadly Sins & Heavenly Virtues – Their importance for Mental Health

I have never been very religious in my life, and have identified as an atheist these past few years. However, the more I look into religion, the more appealing I find the idea of having some rules to live by. I am currently reading a book about Buddhism, which is teaching me a lot about discipline and productivity. However, for this post little series, I will be focussing on Christianity, and in particular the seven deadly sins and the seven heavenly virtues and their link to the human mind.

Today’s society encourages the partaking of all deadly sins in a modern way.
Image Source: https://hackernoon.com/future-of-all-business-exploit-the-7-deadly-sins-80c2b7b7b6a0

In short, the seven deadly sins are habits one should avoid due to their classified immoral nature, and this includes:

  1. Lust – Excessive sexual appetite
  2. Gluttony – Over-indulgence
  3. Greed – Avarice
  4. Sloth – Laziness
  5. Wrath – Extreme anger
  6. Envy – Desire to have something that belongs to another person
  7. Pride – Hubris & Vanity

Now, I don’t personally condemn these habits as immoral due to my so-far limited religious beliefs, but when looking at the list I think each of these is bad for your mental state. These traits encourage indulgence, disinhibition, and egotism, which is not helpful for anyone’s mindset. So, it might be helpful to keep these in mind when assessing your thinking for certain negative patterns!

To counter-balance these ‘sins’, a set of values that would enhance the human soul, named the heavenly virtues were proposed. In my research, I came across different sets of virtues, so I stuck with those that were most clear to understand for me.

  1. Chastity – Purity
  2. Temperance – Self-restraint
  3. Charity – Giving
  4. Diligence – Conscientiousness
  5. Forgiveness – Composure
  6. Kindness – Admiration
  7. Humility – Humbleness

Aristotle even talked about having 12 virtues, which you can see here:

https://aesthetichealingmindset.wordpress.com/2011/06/12/4706/

Adopting the values of the heavenly virtues can teach you a helpful mindset that will improve your mental well-being
Image Source (and some good reading!): https://www.aconsciousrethink.com/6802/seven-heavenly-virtues/

I always find my mental health improves when I live by certain rules, which are based on creating a more disciplined routine. Within that, positivity and being able to let go, rather than dwell, always help me to move forward from a bad patch. When looking at the sins and the virtues, I think it is safe to say that living life according to those would create more discipline, and a life fuelled by less hate and more love. You would be encouraged to adopt values that help you give, forgive, and be kind, while you neglect habits that bring you down, or make you indulge in your own achievements and materialism.

There is a lot within each sin and virtue, so this is more of an introductory post to a 6-week (not 7, because I will be excluding Lust) blog post series, where each week I will challenge myself to focus on one particular sin and the counter-balancing virtue, and live more according to those. This is part of my own self-growth and increasing interest in religion, but some of these habits and values might be particularly interesting for my own (and your!) mental health!

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_deadly_sins

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_virtues

http://freedomoffaith.tripod.com/id11.html

https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-24/edition-2/deadly-sins

Mental Health is More than just Mental Illness

Our mindset is complicated and takes time to figure out, but with consistent effort you can get there 🙂
Image Source: https://online.alvernia.edu/program-resources/behavioral-health-vs-mental-health/

Being healthy, physically and mentally, is often defined by the absence of any sort of illness. However, to me, being mentally healthy means so much more; When I reached the point of mostly having overcome my phobia, I was excited about being in a ‘healthy’ state of mind again (i.e. my life did not revolve itself around vomit). But I came to the realisation that there was so much more to my mindset than my previous mental illness. I did not suffer from depression nor anxiety, but there were parts of my thinking that were still unhelpful, and I am still continuously working on these belief systems.

But what do I mean by unhelpful thoughts that were not really part of a mental illness? For me, I found myself to be very reliant on other people – I constantly wondered what others thought of me, if they thought I looked good, and even let their personal outlook on life get to me. Everything in my life revolved around others, by either helping them, giving parts of my life up for them, or letting their opinions take over mine. Whenever I got home alone, I felt lost, confused and frustrated. This is not mentally healthy. I realised I could not let myself be so dependent on everyone but me – At the end of the day, I am the only person that is a constant throughout my life, so I need to learn how to be there for myself, be able to happily keep myself company, and create the person I aspire to be!

Mental illness is a huge issue that many people face in life, but is there more ways our thinking can be affected negatively?
Image Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mental_disorder

If you don’t suffer from a diagnosed mental illness, it is important to still check how mentally healthy you are. An easy way to do this is to ask yourself questions concerning how you go through life: Are you happy being alone or do you immediately feel lonely or abandoned? What do you think when you look in the mirror? Is going to the cinema alone an option for you, or are you scared of external judgement? Are you able to find something positive in every situation? Can you laugh at yourself or are you easily embarrassed?

Mental health is something we need to talk about more, and mental illness is certainly a huge part of that. But there is more to being healthy, and small things, such as complaining or putting on make-up every time you step outside the door, might be signs you are not living with a healthy mentality. Even if you haven’t been diagnosed, or don’t suspect you suffer from a mental illness, being mentally healthy is still something you should check for.

Being able to see something positive in every situation is crucial for being mentally healthy.
Image Source: http://omswami.com/2016/12/the-secret-of-being-positive.html

You are the only consistent support throughout your life, so make sure to be create the support system you need and want! Nobody else but you will be there to look out for you, sense your emotions, and realise whether you are doing okay. For me, this is a huge part of mental health that I don’t see talked about very much, so I would love to hear your opinions on this :)!

Embrace the Challenge

Putting yourself through challenges is crucial for self-growth, while also being the most rewarding feeling you can give yourself! Be proud of what you have accomplished.
Image Source: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/active/10605263/Ueli-Steck-the-man-who-runs-up-mountains.html

In life we naturally go through many challenging situations. We may choose the challenge ourselves, or find ourselves in an unexpected tough situation. Either way, embrace those situations. This links to my last post about being grateful, but I think this is a more specific part in life – When we describe something as “challenging”, we think of something we had to overcome with difficulty and effort. But often times, the focus is not on the good outcome it led to.

A challenge might be an experience where we have to fight, physically or mentally. With proper reflection, I believe any struggle can be turned into something positive that taught you how to keep going in life.

When overcoming my past phobia, any challenging situation I put or found myself in has helped me get one step ahead. Yes, in the moment it was unpleasant, I might have cried or left, but afterwards I reflected and realised it was not that bad. I fought my way through situations that I found challenging, and I won – I survived, was absolutely fine, and I realised my imagination was my enemy (which I was then able to change!)

Think of your mental capabilities like a muscle, an analogy I have always liked to motivate me put effort into changing my beliefs. When trying to gain muscle mass, you have to challenge your body by lifting weights that need your body to push itself just enough. If your body is challenged, you feel your muscles shaking, which is a sign that they are strengthening. It is the same with your mental experiences; You might experience shaky emotions during the challenge, but over time you get better at it and grow as a person.

Wim Hof (“The Iceman”) has put himself through unbelievable physical and mental challenges, which has led to what he calls an “optimal state of body and mind”
Image source: https://edlatimore.com/wim-hof-method-review/
To read more about the Wim-Hof Method, go here: https://www.wimhofmethod.com/

So – Face any challenges as they come, learn from them and reflect on what improvements you have made, or a capable of making, in order to experience mental growth. I would love to hear your thoughts about this topic :)!

Gratefulness – A Key Pillar of Happiness

Being grateful was never anything I consciously forced myself to be. People tend to naturally feel grateful when, for example, a friend does something nice for them, or when you escaped a dangerous situation safely. But my whole life, until recently, I have never sat down and purposefully listed every single thing I am grateful for – And doing this was a game changer!

I have recently discovered all these small things to be grateful for, and focussing my mind on those really boosted my positive outlook in life. Whether it is being grateful for your parents’ support, being in good health, or living in a safe society, simply reminding yourself of and appreciating the good aspects of your life is really important. Being grateful of any life event can shed some positive light on it, which can help you grow so much as a person.

Appreciate the simple things in life, such as seeing a beautiful sky that could really be a Bob Ross painting

In terms of my past phobia, it is easy for me to think of all the issues it has caused in my life; Being scared of every day experiences, being embarrassed, and keeping myself away from other people. But thinking about those self-inflicted negative consequences is not helpful at all, so I prefer to be grateful that I experienced living with emetophobia. It raised my awareness of ‘unusual’ mental illnesses, which is very important for my future career in Psychology. I also learned about the different forms and shapes anxiety can take on, which makes it easier for me to relate to and emphasise with others. I am also quite sensitive as a person, which I have recently learned to appreciate about myself – This trait has helped me be kinder, take care of others and myself better, and be very aware of my emotions.

I believe that any negative life experience, whether it be mental health issues, death of a loved one, or a break up, can be in some way turned into something that you are grateful for. Be grateful for having had someone in your life, the mental growth it induced, or simply for the good experiences and new pathways it led to. Research has shown that mental well-being is closely tied to how grateful you are (e.g. Rusk, Vella-Brodrick, & Waters, 2016), and it is so so SO easy to start being grateful right now.

It does not matter when (morning, evening, when you’re upset – you choose!), just consciously try to think of a few things every day that you are grateful for. I promise it will help you in one way or another, as a positive outlook never hurts anyone 🙂

“Comparison is the thief of joy”

Appreciate yourself for who you are and what you have – nobody matters when looking at yourself, as you are all you need to reflect and learn.

References Rusk, R. D., Vella-Brodrick, D. A., & Waters, L. (2016). Gratitude or gratefulness? A conceptual review and proposal of the system of appreciative functioning. Journal of Happiness Studies17(5), 2191-2212.

Changing my Mental Health

After a few weeks of illness and crammed deadlines, I am back! This post will be entirely dedicated to outlining how my mental health has changed these past six months, and how I got here.

To start things off – I have improved so much in terms of mental health, but there is still ups and downs, as that is a normal part in life. The biggest part for me was the realisation that I am in control of my thoughts, even if it often seems like negative thoughts ‘take over’ and are ‘overwhelming’. I found that changing the language I use within myself, and dropping words that make me feel like my thoughts are something that my emotions are in control of, helped me tremendously.

In terms of my emetophobia, I am so much better than before. I was watching Harry Potter with friends the other day, and the scene of Ron throwing up the slugs caused me almost no mental burden. Really, the only things that occurred to me is that, firstly, that’s pretty gross, and secondly, I hope the people around me don’t think we have to skip this scene for me (as I know in the past people become aware of me when throw up becomes a topic – but I am perfectly capable to hear and speak of it like anyone else now yay!). I was pretty impressed with myself, as my heart did not start racing and my thoughts were focussed on solely the plot of the movie; One year ago I would browse emetophobia forums to make sure a movie I was about to watch did not contain any vomit scenes.

Other than that, I have learnt to be at ease and be as kind to myself as I try to be to others. At the end of the day, you are the only person that will be there for you to support you – I found it super helpful to positively build my relationship with myself (as silly as it sounds), and stop relying on external forces to keep me going – No more sugar when I am stressed, no more ginger tablets when feeling nauseous, no more messaging my boyfriend when upset. Of course some of these removal tactics are pretty extreme measures, and I still talk to my boyfriend when upset here and there, but it’s about not NEEDING to do so. If my friends are unavailable to chat when I’m not okay – that’s okay! I still have myself, I can support myself and do things myself that make me feel better, I don’t need to push my worries onto someone else, or reach for an external agent to help me.

I have been living alone these past few months and it really helped me to appreciate my own company, and I have to say I like my company! This is a point in my life I never imagined being at during sixth form – Happy and carefree all by myself, what??? Of course, there are still times of sadness, crying and upset (which is a normal part of life), but rather than dwelling on it like I used to, I accept it, move on, and if I can, I will try to make myself feel better.

Here are some things I like to do to make myself feel better (most of which I learned from the thrive book):

  • Write down all the positive experiences from the last couple of days that make me feel better (E.g. My friend thanked me for my help; I heard someone throw up and I was fine – I have come so far!)
  • Meditate, which really helps me to push back the overflow of obsessive thoughts
  • I try to do Wim Hof breathing every day. I like that I purposefully put myself out of my comfort zone by hyperventilating, which makes me feel mentally strong
  • Right after waking up, I think about a positive aspect I want to focus on during the day (e.g. ‘Today I will focus on being kind to myself’, ‘Today I will focus on working hard on this essay’), and make sure to write it down in my exercise book to keep track of it!
  • Drawing is something that also stimulates my positivity, so get inspired and be creative!
  • Gratefulness is something that we need more of in our society, so I make sure to actively think of 3 things, people or events I am grateful for every day.
  • When I experience negative, catastrophic, or paranoid, thoughts, I make sure to acknowledge them! This is definitely the first step to changing your thoughts, as it is something that is entirely up to you. When next realising that you are feeling off, try to think – Is this current thought helpful in any way? If not, what about it is unhelpful? How can I change it? You have the ability to change your thoughts, it just requires a lot of active effort and continuous motivation!
When I feel like my thinking becomes unhelpful, I like to draw and write little notes to myself! Nothing of huge artistic value, but it’s fun in the process, eases the mind, and reminds you of your goals 🙂

Emetophobia at University – Sharing my Experience

Before I start, I want to put out a disclaimer for those with emetophobia: This blog post includes me talking what I was specifically scared of at university – These beliefs are not normal and should not be seen as ‘typical’ just because I experienced them. Next week, I will write about how I worked on these fears, so if you know that reading other people’s fears can reinforce negative beliefs in your head, wait for next week’s post! 

My first year at university was very much a roller coaster ride, which was filled with me trying to understand who I am and who I want to become. The summer before uni started, I was probably at my worst mental health wise, and I was sure to not get back to that state again. So, I started uni with a fresh mindset, got rid of toxic relationships, and was excited to meet new people. Looking back now, I have enjoyed a lot of aspects of uni so far, and I have developed positively in so many ways. However, there were also a lot of challenges that caused anxiety during my time here. Let’s start with the hardest week I had at university – Fresher’s week.

Fresher’s week is the first week of uni, where all new students engage in activities together while the courses haven’t started yet. It’s supposedly the best week that students have, and is filled with amazing memories, but this was not really the case for me. While it sounds all fun and relaxed, the main focus for students is on drinking alcohol and partying – two things that triggered my phobia hugely. Of course I enjoyed parts of this week, but I was also on the constant lookout for things that made me anxious, and avoided a lot of aspects that I wish I could have simply enjoyed like most others. I saw and heard more vomit that week than any other week at uni, which is partly why this week was a challenging experience for me. But, as I am about to explain, there was so much more than just people vomiting that I was continuously anxious about in my daily life at university:

Eating

I was so scared of getting food poisoning that I did not eat at any of the campus eateries, and instead just ate ginger nuts in my room (which caused me to unhealthily lose weight as well). I sometimes would join housemates when they went to get food, and was always questioned, sometimes even interrogated for many minutes, about why I was not eating any food. 

Travel

Bath is a city that relies on busses, which I tried to avoid completely during my first year of university. To me, busses were the form of transport I associated most with travel sickness. I avoided them, so that I would not get travel sick, and I would not see someone else get travel sick. If i were to get on a bus, I would make sure that I only ate dry food at least an hour before and took travel medicine when I was on the bus – keep in mind that these coping mechanisms were for a maximum 20 minute bus ride into town. 

Jokes

This is a bit of a weird issue, but one that stuck with me. The words ‘vomit’, ‘sick’, ‘throw up’, and such as, used to evoke so much panic in me by themselves that I avoided them as much as I could. When I read or heard them, my heart rate went up, I would start sweating, and felt very anxious, which lead to me feeling nauseous (which made me anxious, and so the anxious-nausous cycle went on). This was an issue when I started uni, as I felt that vomit was often used to tell funny stories, make a joke, or was even imitated, by people pretending they would gag or throw up at something gross. While for most these were some lighthearted jokes, they caused me to panic and often even have to leave to cry and calm myself down. This then reinforced to me that I was odd for not finding these jokes funny, which everyone else seemed to laugh about so easily, leading me to feel pretty bad about myself and be more upset. I tried to tell myself that people joking so easily about vomit just shows that it really is not that bad and is nothing to be terrified of, but trying to think more rationally did not take away from the instant emotional response these jokes caused.

Hygiene

The toilets were a big one for me, especially during fresher’s week. Sharing a toilet with 5+ people made me very nervous – what if I can catch something from the germs? What if I see vomit? Will that make me vomit? So, I pretty much always made sure to go to the toilets in other departments around campus, where I knew drunk or ill people wouldn’t go to. 

The kitchen was also a place that made me nervous, as in my halls we had about 40 people per kitchen, due to us being fully catered. This lead to people leaving the kitchen constantly in a messy and dirty state, and it took me months until I cooked something that was not just uncle ben’s microwaveable rice (which I cooked often due to the food not being ‘exposed’ to the ‘germs’ in the kitchen).

Alcohol

And for the obvious one – binge drinking and parties. I myself have not drunk much alcohol at uni yet, which is now mainly due to me not liking the taste, but partly because I am not used to tipsy feeling yet. I have slowly exposed myself more and more to being around others drinking but I have to admit I still nowadays don’t find myself at ease when im around others who binge drink. When people started to drink in my halls, I made sure to lock my door and not drink much water, so that I would not have to leave my room to go to the toilet. There were times where I walked past someone throwing up or could hear it from my room, which always ended up with me having a panic attack. I would not eat for a while after an event like this, and often even avoided brushing my teeth as I was so scared of putting germs in my mouth, which could make me sick.

I know a lot of these experiences won’t make sense to people, which is one reason why I found it pretty hard to speak up about this. I was suffering mentally, while I was also aware of the irrationality of my fear and my coping behaviours, which caused me to be mad at myself and see myself as ‘stupid’ or ‘overdramatic’. This then lead to a constant cycle of hating myself, being scared, feeling unable to cope, and feeling like an outsider. 

I would like to also stress, however, that my first year of uni was still one of the best years of my life. I met awesome people, made amazing memories, and have grown so much as a person. If you have emetophobia and are scared about university, I can reassure you that it is completely up to you to have a good time. You might struggle and have to face new situations, but it will be worth it! Don’t push yourself to do things completely out of your comfort zones, but instead take baby steps – I will talk about this more in my next post! 

Do you have any questions or would like some advice? Have you experienced emetophobia at university as well? Feel free to contact me through the ‘contact’ tab at the top of the website, or leave a comment – I would love to hear your experiences or opinions 🙂 

Emetophobia – An overview of the fear of vomit

I hope that this post will help someone with emetophobia relate to my experience. Before you read this and have emetophobia, I would like to stress that these thoughts and behaviours are not normal – When reading emetophobia blogs and forums it is easy to tell yourself that your fear is valid as people in that context emphasise that vomit is indeed something to be scared of, therefore your fear must reflect the reality. That is a very unhelpful process and will simply enable you to keep your fear alive, so you have to realise that you are the one who is creating this fear as vomit really is nothing to be scared off (Otherwise everyone would be scared of it).

What is emetophobia?

Simply put, emetophobia is an irrational fear of vomit. Different people experience this fear differently, some being more scared of others vomiting, or vomiting in a social context. Emetophobia can be a tricky phobia, due to it being based mainly on having a high desire for control, while feeling unable to control one’s life. Someone with an irrational fear of, for example, heights, will experience that fear when they are in a situation where they are directly challenged. They might avoid certain situations, such as hiking and climbing on ladders, but their everyday life is usaully not affected. For someone with emetophobia, everything in their life suddenly starts to become focussed around vomit, even if it seems completely unrelated when thinking about rationally. Eating food, going out, exercising, cooking, travelling, taking public transport, drinking alcohol – all of these simple life experiences become focussed around the idea of how vomit in any way could be involved.

What if I or others will get food poisoning? What if a drunk person throws up, or alcohol makes me throw up? How can I cope with being car sick? Is that person coughing going to be sick? Can I safely go to a public bathroom without catching a virus?

Often times when I explain my phobia to others, they like to say “But nobody likes vomit” – This is true, but most people don’t revolve every life experience around vomit in the way I just explained. And from experience when talking to people about my phobia, that is a concept they found pretty hard to get their head around. I have been told “Just stop thinking about vomit then” or “But that is not even related to vomit, so why would you be scared”, but unfortunately it’s not all that simple. It took me months to shape my mind around to not focus on vomit so often, and while I see my phobia as having decreased hugely, there is still moments where I make vomit out to be a very bad and scary thing. I will make a separate post on how I (mostly) overcame my phobia and have also developed better coping skills with every day situations and increased my self-esteem.

My Experience with Emetophobia

These days I rarely feel anxious in my daily life about vomit, and I have improved significantly. In my first year of university, I let the phobia take over my life – I avoided the busses, did not eat much (and if I ate, it was something I knew and was used to), locked myself in my room when people were drinking alcohol, avoided going to the toilet, and so much more. I am planning on making a separate post on dealing with emetophobia at university, as I found it to be a particularly difficult environment to keep perspective in. Nowadays, I take the bus without care (or any forms of travel/ public transport), exercise after eating, eat without cleaning my hands and whatever i want to eat, and just generally live a lot more freely and independently. 

Safety Seeking Behaviours

The vicious cycle of safety seeking behaviours keeping a fear alive © Think CBT Ltd

Emetophobia is mostly kept alive by taking part in safety seeking or avoidance behaviours. I don’t want to list many of them, as I know for myself most of my safety seeking behaviours developed by reading about them on forums (and I will explain why this is a bad thing), and I am very keen on not enabling that. If you have emetophobia and are reading this please remember that safety seeking behaviours are bad for you and will not help you, even though they make you feel better at the moment by temporarily relieving anxiety. 

For those who don’t know what safety seeking behaviours are, it is an action that someone engages in to escape their state of anxiety. For example, when my phobia was quite bad, I would always carry ginger sweets with me and take one when I felt nauseous (which ended up being about 5 sweets per day), so that I would not get sick. Did this help in any way? Nope. To me this is almost comparable to self-harm. It is a type of coping that helps alleviate anxiety in the moment, but eventually just strengthens the negative beliefs around vomit.

This part is particularly important to those suffering from emetophobia: To clarify, when you engage in a safety seeking behaviour, you are telling yourself that you cannot cope with potentially being sick. You reinforce that being sick (or seeing someone sick) is a scary thing, as you need an external force to take away this fear. This then also makes you feel powerless, as you put the idea in your head that you can’t cope with this situation by yourself. Control is a huge, if not the main, theme in emetophobia – Emetophobes really want to be in control, while feeling completely out of control. Safety seeking behaviours are a way of making them feel more in control, as they are taking themselves out of the anxiety, but they are doing that by relying on something external. They are reinforcing the belief that vomit is indeed something they need to be scared of, which is why they are doing everything they can to avoid it. Instead, it is a lot more important to build internal coping behaviours and slowly step away from any external and ineffective coping mechanisms. For doing this, I really recommend the Thrive book by Rob Kelly. It has helped me hugely, expresses what I have described so far in much more detail, and is a really empowering programme as you are recovering by yourself, completely from within. Everyone has different preferences, but to me the Thrive programme just makes sense and works well – If you have shaped your thinking around vomit being something you cannot cope with, you can shape your thinking back to gain internal control.